Friday, June 8, 2007

Second System Syndrome

It's hard to find a lot to disagree with in Dan Balz's WaPo analysis of the failure of the immigration bill. This was not my favorite piece of legislation and I won't mourn its passing--much. I'm a lot more concerned with how broken the process was, rather than the ultimate outcome.

In engineering, we have a phenomenon called "second system syndrome." This results when a flawed but somewhat successful product needs to be replaced with the next generation. Invariably, the first cut at the design fails because everybody has thrown in every pet peeve they can think of. Then somebody comes along with a grandiose, unifying vision to accomodate the laundry list of features and begins to implement the silly thing. If the company is lucky, the project dies early and is replaced with a more modest, targeted set of requirements. If it's unlucky, it actually tries to ship the thing.

Seems like this incarnation of the immigration bill followed a similar course. Having failed with both Comprehensive Reform Part 1 and its successor, Just Secure the Border, the architects of this bill tried to find something for everybody, not realizing that, while the public wants something done, it doesn't want it done badly enough to hold its nose and accept the grand compromise.

Meanwhile, this is yet another example of the utter disfunction in the way that public policy ideas get communicated to the public, and how the public reacts to them. Folks, politics is supposed to be boring!! It's all about minute compromises and determining the outcomes of those compromises. Bills have to be small enough so that the impact can actually be discussed. Then you need to have media that will actually discuss the policy, rather than handicap the horse race of who wins and loses in the next campaign.

I'm fine with the status quo. We're propping up the Mexican economy. We're getting the cheap labor that we need. None of the reforms in the bill were adequate to solve the security issues, so we're no worse off than before. And, with the exception of large urban areas, illegal immigrants are assimilating just fine. (I live in Texas--we've had the problem longer than most, and have seen that it mostly resolves itself if you wait long enough.)

It'd be nice to know who's coming into the country. However, immigration is going to continue as long as their are labor demand differences between the US and Mexico. If you really want to solve the problem, work on finding a way for the Mexican government to get out of its own way.

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